India lost at Lord’s. Rusty? Nope.

England have won the first Test at Lord’s, beating India by a huge margin of 196 runs. However, India lost the draw, by a small margin of half a session.

Were India under prepared?
England, put into bat, dominated the match, ever since Zaheer Khan injured his hamstring, on the afternoon of the first day. However, it is unfair to say that India were unprepared and used it as a warm up game.

In fact, the previous West Indies series was a prep series, where Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma built their confidence. But on the first day, only Zaheer got India the breaks. More than preparation it was the inexperience of Ishant/Praveen to bowl the fuller lengths, which let the crucial morning session slip by. They did bowl fuller later and reaped rewards, but well after India lost the initiative of the toss. They were the ones who were not rusty. Can happen on a first series abroad.

Then Dravid and Dhoni dropped Trott. It happens. They too went to West Indies. Not rusty.

Zaheer Khan has had injury breakdowns in the past, but he has also been the man of the series for India, just as often. So as fans, we can do better by supporting him.

Now the batting…
A total of 350+ looked very much on, after Dravid-Tendulkar’s pro-active partnership of 80 runs, got India closer to 200. Tendulkar failed to get the elusive ton, but his innings was useful nonetheless, as this partnership was the highest in the first innings. However, VVS Laxman, Raina, and Harbhajan who had a good series in West Indies had soft dismissals in the first innings. This meant that India were bundled under 300. But they were the ones who were not rusty for sure. Credit the English bowlers for working them out.

Note: Tendulkar had fever later or batted with it, and Gambhir was struck below the elbow, fielding at short leg. Not exacty in one’s control.

About England…
Anderson’s bowling was not spot on in the first innings. Both Cook and Strauss could not get going with the scoring too. Morgan looked out of sorts about walking/waiting for a decision. Rusty? Perhaps not worth looking into, since England won.

So why did India lose? Not rustiness…

In a nutshell, England-India contests have been close contests since ’07, England last won a Test vs India, in 2005. It was going to happen again someday. It did. Considering so many things that went wrong for India, some not quite in our control, India did well to lose the draw by just half-session.

Congratulations to England. They desrved the win.

Let us move on to the next Test, there is no time in cricket these days to get rusty, even if you choose too.

@saumilzx
Mumbai

India Test Cricket, Home-Away Diff Chart July ’11

Update 1.3

India Home-Away in Test Cricket, after 1st Test England, Lords '11

The chart from July 2010, is now updated to version 1.3 View the pdf

#shotzxQ3 Bradman Quiz, $100 Amazon Gift Voucher

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India-Sri Lanka, ICC World Cup Final 2011

Tomorrow is the final of the Cricket World Cup 2011 in Mumbai.

Both teams are similar- batting depth for the sub-continent, rely on spin to back their bowling plans, and decent pace bowlers to get through the power plays. Sounds about equal? It should be treated as such, since this is the finals. But here are the chances:

1. India Bat First (90-10 for India): this is the bowling attack which every Indian batsman has the chance of getting a big score and if  not, be able to rotate strike. Murali is great, but all our batters can handle him, especially being injured. I doubt they will risk Ajantha Mendis against us, after he was sorted out many times.

Now about Malinga- who is my favorite Mumbai Indians bowler- but that is T20, where two overs of 4 runs has a huge impact. In T20, Malinga gets many wickets because the batters have to try to get more than 6/7 an over. In ODIs, India have played him cautiously.

So, if India bat first, even if Lankans get wickets regularly or early, I think there is enough depth to post a huge score near about 270 plus, if the track is good. If they do not get Sachin and Viru out in 10 overs, they will be in deep trouble, as then Murali and other spinners can be attacked in Power play 2.

2. Sri Lanka bat first (60-40 India): this is a another story. Yet, I believe India can restrict them under 220. Dilshan has been sorted out, and he is not going to get too to score square on the off side. Sanggakara has also been pinned during the IPLs and many other ODIs. Mahela is a classic batsman and will be key- but his strike rates are usually a burden to the team, if he gets out without a big score.

Bhajji will be showing some of the round-the-wicket magic (as he got Umar Akmal), and Zaheer Khan is the best fast bowler in our conditions. Add Ashwin, who can do a Mendis on Lankans (they have not seen much of him). So if we bowl first, I still do not think Lankans can break away like the Jayasuriya days. Their strike will be in check, but they have a more mature batting line-up than Pakistan, to go beyond 230.

Then when India chase, Sri Lanka have to hope for early wickets. Not easy the way Sehwag and Tendulkar are getting starts with 8 an over. But if they get early wickets, Murali will become a factor. But this time, (unlike 07), all our batsman can rotate strike and not be bogged down if wickets fall, at least not in home conditions. So I think the batting is determined enough to see through a chase.

Every single player has by now understood that you do not get a chance to win a world cup medal with playing conditions favoring you. Although, the home pressure goes against you, if we focus on the 22 yards, this is the best oppurtunity to get on top of the world. For four years, at least.

@saumilzx
Mumbai, India

India-Pak Semi Finals Preview- World Cup 2011

In 2 hours, the second semi-final of the 2011 World Cup will take off. The hype is well and truly on, with prime ministers of both nations, ready to divert attention away from other critical political issues. But the pitch remains 22 yards in length, so let’s stick to cricketing matters.

How can India approach this?

Pakistan bowling: it is a good bowling attack, but for a T20 game. The Pakistan spinners, lead by Afridi are good, but in my opinion Hafeez and Ajmal have skills which can keep the batters guessing for 3-4 overs, not 10 over ODI. You can say that Ashwin and Yuvraj are similar in that sense. But Harbhajan is yet the best spin bowler on both sides, around whom others can chip in a few. If Tendulkar bowls leggies, it will be interesting to see how he goes after the middle order- perhaps bowling round the legs.

Umar Gul and Razzaq cannot run through sides, and their ability to contain for 10 overs can be doubted. Shoaib might play, but surely Indian batters have seen enough quickies in the form of Steyn and Lee in the recent past, not be bothered by his pace. On the other side, Zaheer Khan, has firmly established himself as a wicket taking fast bowler- perhaps the best in Indian conditions.

If India bat first and do not lose a wicket for 10 overs- Pakistan bowling can be exploited. They lack a clear ‘go to’ bowler and will find it tough to restrict India below 300.

Pakistan batting:

One of the biggest issues with Pakistan not playing as much quality international cricket as India, is that their youger batsmen are not seasoned enough to produce strike-rates constructively, as say Kohli and Gambhir- the newer Indians in the top order. The middle order with Yonis Khan and Misbah are solid, but again with moderate strike rates only.

If India bowl first, then they can slip in dot balls as batters tend to be cautious (due to dilemma of target strike rate in first innings). Then they can expect a rash shot as the versatility of Pakistan batters scoring briskly but constructively will be tested. So by beating the batter intent, Indian bowlers can make Pakistan work hard to get to 150-170, even if the pitch is all good.

Indian batting on the other hand is the most versatile it has ever been. Every batter has ability to rotate strike, get boundaries by orthodox shots, and play big shots once set.

So 75-25 in India’s favor at Mohali. India will need to play really poorly to lose this one.

@saumilzx
Mumbai, India
30 March 2011

India Quarter Finals Preview- ICC World Cup ’11

The League Phase of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 is through. As was expected, the major 8 cricketing nations have made it, thanks to the generous format of the league. England had their nightmare moments, but got a dream gift from the West Indies to get through.

So now what are the probabilities of the Quarter Finals?

Since there will be three knock-outs to be won, the task for a team to win the world cup is more uncertain than past World Cups (where semis/finals decided winner from top 4). Moreover, most teams are about even, it must be said that there are no favorites now. India had that tag, before it began.

But if a team had 70-30 chance in each round, it will be close to 0.7 x 0.7 x 0.7 = 35% of winning. However, based on the evidence we have from the league phase, I doubt that can be said of any team, except where top team of a group plays the weakest in the other, if at all (Pak vs WI, SA vs NZ). At 60-40 which is more close to reality, the best teams have a 0.6 x 0.6 x 0.6 = 21% chance.

So what can we expect from India?

As mentioned India had the favorites tag. But unimpressive bowling at the start of the tournament, after huge totals were posted by batters- added pressure on batters in the games that followed.  The lower order batting collapsed  few times in an attempt to post even higher scores above 330-350+, owing to the lack of confidence in bowling.

Dhoni now has to recover the ‘team to beat’ tag,  The plus on his side, is it that it is getting hotter and the spinners are playing a dominant role. Ashwin is in for India.

Our quarter-finals is against Australia, 24th March. Here are possible factors which can prop India

1. If Sehwag can bat till the spinners come on:

In 2009 India lost a home ODI series to Australia, when we were expected to win. I had blogged then that one of the main reasons Australia were let off (from a one-0n-one, positional matchup sense) was Sehwag vs a spinner (Hauritz then), did not happen, all through the series.

2. Batting power play has been double edged. Take it early?

Perhaps. When taken late, especially in the first innings- batters do not get singles easily, resulting in dot balls or big shots (only orthodox batters can get fours here). Double edged indeed, as a new batsman cannot tap around and rotate strike to get set to launch big shots.

One option is 35th over. But another is almost immediately after 15th over, and get done with.

If Sehwag is around in 18th over or so, then a batting power play might be an option (when spinners are surely in). He can then go for it. Sachin has been lofting well too, but if Viru gets after a spinner, this could be fun, (addresses the 1st Point)

3. Batting order change when only 2-3 wickets have fallen till 35-40th over.

Now it seems that Virat Kohli has to be move down, to allow the big shot makers get maximum overs. Fair enough. But if a supporting orthodox batter at that stage (Tendulkar/Gambhir) gets out, get Virat in, to support the big striker. if 45 overs are through- both ends can feature a big hitter.

4. Dhoni will bring on fielding plans to put the squeeze/slow down the activity, and allow spinners to focus on wickets.

a. Dhoni will have skewed fields, sometimes in-out. Be sure it is not going to be all fielders sort of all around. And with Tendulkar studying shot production of each batter, this is very much on.

b. Bowlers will be shuffled around. Unless wickets fall, I doubt more than 3-4 overs for any bowler in a spell. But slow and slower mixed with some seam bowling will be the pattern.

c. Part-timers will vary bowling angles- even a Raina has been brilliant for Chennai in IPL, by just changing angles (Pathan/Raina, whoever is in, will need to mix it). Ashwin lives on this fact, (changes trajectory and angle smartly), but with part timers this will be needed. Yuvraj has been brilliant so far in bowling as well, but do expect the Aussies to exploit the 5th bowler. That has been India’s weakness since many world cups now.

4. Defer a bowling power play?

Can be an option. Munaf Patel is an orthodox bowler and can pick wickets when batsmen are trying to mix caution and aggression.Bowling at the death has not worked for him. So if a bowling power play is deferred to the 30th over, this might work, as that is not when opposition likes to lose wickets. Moreover, spinners can put the  squeeze early (from both ends) from 10th over if needed.

Suggestions that 3 spinners (Chawla +Ashwin+Harbhajan) might make it, sounds nice, but with 20 overs of powerplay it is not easy to pull off with Zaheer Khan as the only seamer.

The nice thing is India has done well so far, except for few phases in the league. So they may be peaking at the right time (never easy to control that). The spin department now looks set to make the bowling look threatening.

Can Dhoni make the team look like it had reserved their best plans for the knock-outs?

Thats alone will raise the bar for the rest. Come on, beating India in India should feel daunting for the rest…

@saumilzx

Mumbai, India
22 Mar 2011

#shotzxQ2 Tendulkar Quiz, $100 Amazon Gift Voucher

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Will Sachin Tendulkar finally be a World Champion in this ICC World Cup 2011?

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